After weeks of toiling on Hillary Clinton‘s behalf, Arden resident Stan Safian saw the stars beginning to align for her last week.
Clinton edged past opponent Barack Obama by nearly 10 points in the Pennsylvania primary, a contest pundits were calling a must-win for the New York senator. The next day, Hillary’s friend Ann Jordan, wife of longtime Bill Clinton adviser Vernon Jordan, came to Asheville to warm up the local crowd.
Safian, a recent transplant from Long Island, has been a Clinton supporter since the former first lady ran for the Senate in 2000. The day before Sen. Clinton arrived for a campaign appearance here, Safian stood in the central room of a house at 24 Arlington St., which had recently been converted into Clinton’s Asheville campaign office. Jordan’s talk had just ended, and Clinton supporters—mostly mature women—were passing in and out of the house.
“The support that we’re getting from women in their 50s and 60s is amazing,” noted Safian. Part of Clinton’s drawing power for that age group, he suggested, stems from her support for universal health care. “We have met people down here—friends—who are 60 years old and are working at Home Depot just for the health insurance,” he said incredulously. “They’re waiting to turn 65 just for Medicare. It shouldn’t be. It just shouldn’t be.”
Until a half-dozen paid Clinton staffers arrived in Asheville a few weeks ago, the campaign’s local arm had been strictly a grass-roots, all-volunteer affair, and supplies were understandably limited. But two days before the candidate’s appearance, a pair of U-Haul trucks brought in signs and other promotional materials left over from another primary. There were also laptop computers, boxes of cell phones and hundreds of “Team Hillary” T-shirts.
Inside headquarters, the walls were covered with sign-up sheets, volunteer protocols, scores of sticky notes and maps of Western North Carolina.
“Women believe in Hillary because she’s a fighter,” said a smiling Maggi Zadek, perched on a folding chair nearby. Another New York-to-Asheville transplant, Zadek wore a fuchsia T-shirt with an image of Clinton done Che Guevara style.
“She’s a feminine warrior,” said Zadek. “She gets knocked down, she gets back up. She’s everything we dreamed we could be.”
The big show
On April 24, Thomas Wolfe Auditorium was at near-capacity. Banners and signs proclaimed messages like “SMOKEY [sic] MOUNTAINS FOR HILLARY” and “MY MOM VOTED FOR YOU IN PA. I’M VOTING FOR YOU IN NC.”
Sometime after 9 p.m., a side curtain parted and Clinton crossed the stage, joining a cadre of retired military leaders that included Gen. Hugh Shelton, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all seated in front of a divider that said, “Solutions for a Strong Military.”
During a detailed, 30-minute speech, Clinton offered a point-by-point look at the policies she said her administration would concern itself with: Rebuilding “accountability in the White House”; withdrawing from Iraq; ending dependence on foreign oil and tax benefits for companies that ship jobs overseas; restoring fairness to the tax code; reviewing the nation’s trade policies; establishing “Build America Bonds” to fix the national infrastructure; and combating global warming.
“Some people say, ‘Can we do that?’” Clinton said about halting climate change. “And I say we do not have a choice—our future, our planet, depend on it.”
If some of the evening’s military talk seemed lost on the Asheville crowd (Brig. Gen. John Watkins’ opening observation that “If [Clinton] has to pull the trigger, she’ll pull it” skittered and died on the auditorium’s floor), the mere mention of the words “affordable health care” brought a standing ovation. And Clinton’s assertion that she would create a national early learning program and “bring an end to No Child Left Behind” caused a clamor of applause and shouting. Her final words, “Let’s go, North Carolina!” were absorbed in an oceanic roar.
Still, with the primary more than a week away and polls showing Obama ahead here, it was evident that there was much work to be done. Clinton volunteer Ann Wechter of Fairview, who stood for hours before the speech holding a hand-lettered sign reading “GROUP SEATING,” was looking more than a little fatigued by the end. Among her other campaign duties, said Wechter, she’d volunteered to get supplies for a Sunday “bagel brunch” at the Arlington Street headquarters.
“Food is a good magnet,” Wechter observed, adding that she hadn’t yet settled on a bagel supplier. “I’m going out tomorrow to comparison-shop,” she said, smiling weakly.